When the stakes are high, every advantage counts. That’s why during the off-season teams look at ways to improve or gain even the slightest edge over others to win the Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic. Changes take many forms, from upgrading tackle or electronics to increasing live bait capacity or adding a new set of outriggers. For several ECBC regulars, however, new boats and new power are how they are changing their game.

Dock buzz has it that Dead Line is on the market and owner Justin Phelps and Capt. Harper Roehm are hunting for a larger ride for the upcoming June contest. They’re probably not alone. Several other teams have already signed the paperwork and are busy fine-tuning their new yachts. Liquid Apple made the biggest jump in length overall.

“We had a 50 Bertram before we took a break from fishing. When we got back into the sport, we started with a 39 Cigarette center console,” Blake Applewhite says. “We realized the center console wasn’t working so we bought a new to us 68 Viking with enclosed bridge. We’ll still fish the same areas, but the advantage is we won’t have to come in at night like we did before. We mainly pull lures. We’re also having some tuna tubes installed, so we may live bait some now.” Blake, along with his dad and brother form the team and they are in the process of lining up crew. Liquid Apple will call Orange Beach, Alabama its home port.

Donny D III, a 48 Tiara has been replaced by a new name and larger displacement. The Donny D IV is a brand new 68 Hatteras owned by Dow McVean. Capt. Jon Pinney, a nine-year team member, runs the shiny convertible.

“The biggest advantages are we more than doubled our fuel and range,” Pinney says. “It’s a big boat difference. So now we’ll be able to run and gun. If it’s not happening in one spot we can easily switch to another.” In addition to Pinney and three mates, the normal contingent is five anglers, so the added length and beam will provide more comfort offshore. The boat is also equipped with a Seakeeper stabilizing gyro.

“We picked up a couple knots, but it’s not a speed demon,” Pinney says in describing the new boat’s performance. “It’s steady with a good ride, and a good family fishing boat. It’s like a floating condo for the kids and owners when we’re not tournament fishing.” Donny D IV does have tuna tubes installed but Pinney says the team primarily uses lures to entice their targets.

Owner Bob Lyons and Capt. Daniel Menard also have a gleaming new 68 Viking in their berth at the Baytowne Marina in Sandestin. The convertible was purchased through Galati Yachts. Menard, who’s been running Lyon’s Pride for three years, says the new ride has several key upgrades.

“We’re keeping the same name, same color. The new boat is just bigger and better,” Menard says. The living spaces are larger and range has increased with a 2,300-gallon capacity. Power comes from 12-cylinder MTU diesels at 1,945-hp apiece. The boat is also equipped with Seakeeper, Garmin and Furuno sonar/navigation systems and longer outriggers for a wider spread. A larger, more efficient ice maker, an extra live well and added tuna tubes are also part of the arsenal.

“Two comfort aspects really sold us on the boat,” Menard explains. “We now have a day head starboard, just inside the salon door so you don’t have to go all the way forward. And the master stateroom berth is positioned fore and aft instead of beam-to. That way the owner can sleep comfortably while we’re running at night.”

Wahoo fanatic Neal Foster of Mobile, AL will be at the helm of his new 39 Contender center console this season. Intense will be zipping along thanks to triple Yamaha 425-hp outboards. Foster is still tweaking his props but early tests were producing speeds up to 80 miles per hour. A Hooker sea chest, night vision capability and Gemlux intakes for the live wells are among the accessories on the latest ride.

“These new motors are unreal,” Foster says. “They have so much torque and I’m very impressed with the fuel economy. At 52 miles per hour, I’m getting a mile per gallon. It’s going to give us an extra hour to fish that first evening when the bite is always good. If I run 400 miles one way, I’ll cover 10 more miles per hour than my other boat. That puts a whole different spin on things.”

Capt. Jeff Shoults and his team will still be fishing Mollie this season. The 10-year G&S custom yacht from Destin is running new engines and enjoying a new HD-9 Seakeeper, though. Shoults had 8,000 hours on the previous MTU set, so he felt there was no need to switch to another brand. The 96 Series diesels don’t smoke as much and have less delays in performance.

“I’m extremely happy with the MTUs and the Seakeeper,” Shoults says. “It was time to update everything. So we got the latest and greatest to keep going forward.”

The 2019 ECBC is still a couple months away. In this sport though, it’s never too early to up the ante.